The NBA regular season is a grind for everyone, not just players and coaches, but also bettors and oddsmakers. There are 30 teams and an 82-game regular season, as well as a two-month postseason. Predicting the outcome of an NBA game, like any other major market, is difficult.
However, beating the point spread set by oddsmakers consistently enough to cover the vig (or juice) required to make a profit — typically 52.38% on -110 bets — is even more difficult.
However, there are ways to gain an advantage when betting on the NBA. With a new season approaching, there’s no better time than now to discuss my nightly NBA betting strategy and learn more about how to bet on basketball effectively.
How to Start Betting on NBA Games?
1. Place Your Bet Early
Starting betting on NBA games as soon as the markets open each morning is one of the best ways to gain an advantage. If you live on the East Coast, you must be available to bet between 8 and 9 a.m. ET.
Nothing falls through the cracks in a market as large as the NBA. Injury news, market inefficiencies, and erroneous lines are quickly corrected as the world’s sharpest bettors and betting syndicates look to snare the value on NBA sides and totals before it is sucked out of the line.
As the game approaches, oddsmakers and bettors gain more information, so betting early allows you to capitalize on errors in the initial lines released by oddsmakers before they are corrected.
Because bookmakers adjust their lines based on action, injury news, and other factors, the lines become more accurate and difficult to beat as the day progresses.
Consistently beating the closing line is one of the most important predictors of a winning long-term bettor. Early betting allows you to generate Closing Line Value and obtain better odds than the line closes at tipoff.
Using data from our Bet Labs database, we’ve compiled some statistics on NBA point spreads versus closing lines over the last decade. The chart below shows that there is a lot of value in getting ahead of the market because your win percentage increases with every half point that bettors beat the closing line.
Although limits increase throughout the day, the ability to get CLV decreases as you get closer to tip-off, so if you want to consistently get the best of the number, you should be betting early.
There are times when betting later in the day is advantageous.
Consider a game at the Crypto.com Arena between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. Because the Lakers have LeBron James and are a popular team, the public is likely to push the Lakers’ line up to the point where you can find more value backing the underdog Kings closer to tip-off.
Sports betting is the ultimate multi-player game. You’re not just competing with the online bookmaker; you’re competing with thousands of other sports bettors whose opinions shape the market.
Understanding what the vast majority of the general public and seasoned professionals think about a game allows you to read the market properly and know when to time your bets to get the best value.
2. Research and Respond to Injury Reports
When it comes to betting, the importance of NBA injuries cannot be overstated. In contrast to football, which has 11 players on each side of the ball, and baseball, which has nine players, a basketball team only plays five players at a time, which means that one player can have a greater impact on the game than in any other team sport.
While betting early can give you an advantage, it can also leave you in the dark about injury news that comes out throughout the day. My advice is to approach the NBA in stages. Bet early in the morning, but make sure you’re available in the afternoon to stay up to date on injury news and bet on games where an injury could have a significant impact.
It’s common for star players to sit out of back-to-back games in the age of load management, so you need to predict which players will sit out based on recent play, news reports, and betting markets. There are slower-moving sportsbooks that aren’t as quick to adjust their spreads and totals in response to injury news, and this is one of the best places for bettors to gain an advantage.
Understanding how coaches approach playing is also essential here. Some coaches prefer to go all out during the regular season, whereas others prefer to sit stats. For example, New York Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau is known for pushing his team to play hard every night, whereas Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs and Tyron Lue of the Los Angeles Clippers are more likely to load manage their stars.
Coaches can sometimes tip their hands when talking to beat writers in the days leading up to games, so pay attention to what they say (and don’t say) in press conferences and media availability.
3. Look for Scheduling Benefits
Despite efforts by the NBA to reduce the number of back-to-backs, NBA teams will average 13.5 back-to-backs this season, with no-rest games (the second of the back-to-backs). While this accounts for less than 17% of their 82 games, these are opportunities for bettors.
Unfortunately, there are no stretches this season where a team plays four games in five nights, so we can’t isolate that. However, the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trailblazers, and San Antonio Spurs have all played eight games in twelve nights.
Keep this in mind throughout the season and look to fade these teams during stretches when they are likely to have tired legs.
The two-game series is a newer scheduling quirk that was implemented during the pandemic to reduce travel during last season’s compressed schedule. There will be 23 two-game series in the same arena, and seeing two teams play back-to-back has to be advantageous.
The team that lost the first game of the two-game series last season was 27-14-12 (65.9%) against the spread.
4. Possessions: How many possessions will there be in a game?
Pace is one of the most important factors to consider when handicapping totals in the NBA. The number of possessions in a game, just as much as a team’s offensive efficiency, can determine how high-scoring a matchup will be.
Last season, the Washington Wizards finished 18th in offensive rating but third in points per game (116.6) due to the league’s fastest Pace (106.4). Calculating Pace will give you a good idea of how many possessions you’ll have for the rest of the game.
Pace is defined and calculated by Basketball-Reference as follows:
Pace Factor (available in the NBA since the 1973-74 season; the formula is 48 * ((Tm Poss + Opp Poss) / (2 * (Tm MP / 5)). The pace factor is an estimate of a team’s possessions per 48 minutes. (Note: For the WNBA, 40 minutes is used in the calculation.)
When looking at play totals, there are several questions to consider:
Is this a game between a fast-paced team and a slow-paced team? Which team is more likely to impose its will on the other in terms of style? Is one or both of these teams nearing the end of a long road trip? What is the team’s game plan going into the game?
Back in Game 5 and 6 of the Western Conference Finals between the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Clippers, both games went over the final total, as the Suns made a commitment to play faster and get into their offense faster.
Game 5 had 97.5 possessions, exceeding the total of 213.5. The total for Game 6 was adjusted to 214.5, and it also went over; the Suns found efficient offense against a tired Clippers team that had played every other day for nearly a month.
There are additional questions. How efficient have these offenses been recently, and are they likely to slow down? How does the shot quality look? Are these teams attempting but failing to make open 3-pointers? Are these teams collectively outperforming expectations on offense? What kind of positive or negative regression can we anticipate as a result of these offenses?
If you have a model, you can compare your line to the market line, but you can also look at both teams’ recent play to see if you have an advantage.
Because it allows sports fans to place a bet after the game has already begun, live wagering has become one of the most popular forms of betting.
5. Betting in Real Time
Because in-game odds change frequently based on what’s happening, bettors can take advantage of the volatility of a game, set up arbitrage or middling opportunities, and even hedge previous bets to profit.
The models and algorithms used by sports books to generate live lines are only as good as the information fed into them, and there is a plethora of new information received after the game begins that we didn’t have before.
Here are some general guidelines for live betting:
- Place your bets during commercial breaks or stoppages.
- Profit from pricing errors caused by bad data.
- Injuries from live bets
- Determine possessions for live totals.
- Profit from volatility — as the saying goes, it’s a game of runs.
- Rotational learning is the key to success.
6. Basketball should not be teased
This should go without saying, but there may still be some casual bettors who are unfamiliar.
NFL teasers are valuable because a football game typically has 12 possessions. Teasing a game six points account for nearly one touchdown and provides enough space for each teaser leg to cover the 72.3% threshold required to break even.
NBA games, on the other hand, have an average of 100 possessions, so teasing a four-point spread is only two possessions, which can be covered in under a minute. There are simply too many possessions in a basketball game to justify teasing it.
Take a look at standard two-team four-point teasers at (-110 odds) in basketball to see how the math works. Adding four points to a team’s spread gives them a 66% chance of covering, which is far less than the 72.3% needed to break even. Fair odds on such teasers are closer to +130, but you’re still paying -110, which gives you a negative long-term expectation.
7. Shopping on the Internet
This is critical in any sport. Always have access to multiple sportsbooks to shop for the best line when making NBA picks. If BetMGM has the Milwaukee Bucks at -3.5 for a game and Caesars has them at -3, you should bet with Caesars. As previously stated, a half point can drastically change your win rate.
The same can be said for the vig. Some books have a spread or total of -120, while others have a spread or total of -110. To break even on -110 bets, you must win 52.38% of the time. At -120, you must win 54.5% of the time to break even. That’s nearly a 2.12% advantage.
By visiting the Action Network’s NBA odds page, you can always find the best, most up-to-date line for any game. If you’re new to betting, you can find sign-up bonuses tailored to your state right here.
8. Keep Track of Your NBA Bets
Tracking your bets — everything from a point spread to a moneyline to a prop bet — in The Action Network App is one of the best things you can do to become a profitable NBA bettor. Our app calculates your ROI for each wager type, and you can begin to recognize patterns to determine your strengths and weaknesses.
After tracking your bets in our app, you’ll know where to focus your efforts when placing wagers in the future.